My journey to Andalucia this summer was really the first step. Andalucia’s history is lined with a deeply melancholic tune and I feel that all the trials and efforts of its history would have gone in vain if we do not learn the lessons from it now. During my trip, not only did I learn about Islamic history but I also found a little part of me that had been lost for quite a while.
So who am I? Me, I’m just your average Jane Doe. The kind of Jane Doe that is British Muslim. The kind of Jane Doe that knows exactly where she is from but doesn’t really know where to call home and doesn’t really know what her history is or what it should be. And I know this feeling is mutual for a lot of us Jane and John Doe’s. There are many of us who live in the middle of a cultural venn diagram.
My trip to Andalucia… and I call it Al Andalus/Andalucia, and not ‘the South of Spayyyyn’, mainly because of the connotations it has. No, I did not come back bright orange and party-ed out, although we did share a whole budget airline with a similar people and stuck out like an incredible sore thumb!
In fact, my days spent in Andalucia entailed learning about its history and meetings its people. Those days and the experience was truly irreplaceable and it was a great time spent with some truly fantastic people. But beyond all this, there was definitely some thought-rollercoastering going on. Al Andalus stood for so much more than its history and culture. Yes, it’s history is extremely important and sadly a neglected area of study however the essential messages from the lessons of Al Andalus could not be more relevant to this Jane Doe’s everyday life.
My journey to Al Andalus probed at my hidden identity crisis. As a Muslim living in the West, I realised that my ideas on identity were somewhat skewed. Similar to the fact that concepts of what it is to be a Muslim are often associated with a ‘type’, that predefines certain colours, language, attire and even food. And for the last time habibi, hoummus and chicken tikka are not a ‘Muslim’ foods.
It’s odd how something so important like identity is so frequently misunderstood. You may ask what I’m going on about and I could write a lecture-style post on what it is but I’m talking about the realisation that you are not really just what you are but you are also who you are. How many of us really know who we are?
I ‘come’ from two different backgrounds, speak a mish-mash of various languages, eat so many different food types and I live in Britain. So when I get asked, “Sooooooooo, where are you from?”
I’ve always replied, with where my parents are from but it’s still not really clear where I’m from is it? That only just explains what I am, in terms of description but it’s not saying much about who I am. There is a distinction. The definition of identity is “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” But I would argue that it is more than “who or what” it’s “who and what”. And none of the above fit that criteria exclusively.
My identity is a Muslim, because Islam isn’t just the clothes that you wear, the language that you speak or the food that you eat, it is all of those things but none of those things. It is who you are and what you are. Our beloved prophet Muhammed SAW has told us that each one of us is born with a ‘fit-rah’, the innate inclination to the tawheed of Allah (oneness). It’s this fitrah that is you and all your other features have just been acquired along the way. Nurture vs Nature, our nature is the tawheed of Allah SWT.
This issue of confused identity is a continual problem. Because if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have such a pretentious and superficial perspective of what a ‘Muslim’ is. And if tawheed is our innate inclination of being then why have we neglected so much of its related history? Why have we disguised Islam as a predominately ‘Eastern’ religion? And why do we use other labels to identify who we are? Because it’s not the number of inshaAllah’s that we say in a sentence, it’s far deeper. I do feel that as a wider community, we have collectively failed in someway to tap into that void and fill it with something useful.
And what is that something useful? It really is a lot of things but I believe that history is one of the most important of them. Because, history isn’t just a story but it’s a lesson that we continually need to apply to our lives. Andalucian history illustrated the beauty of universality within Islam but it is also a reflection of what is wrong with Muslims. And it’s why I found a bit of myself in Al Andalus… (next post iA)
Thank you and peace be upon you.